This week’s pilgrimage of politicians to the Stampede was met with less fanfare than some years gone by. This wasn’t the first rodeo for any of the party leaders, and ever since the leather vest incident, wardrobes are vetted by dozens of staffers and stylists. So there were few surprises and few opportunities to ridicule.
And, let’s be honest, everyone was there for the Shat.
Which kind of makes me sad Jack Layton isn’t around anymore. Mulcair? He’s supposed to be in town this weekend (if Harper lets him), but I see him as more of a Picard than a Kirk fan. Or maybe Riker – post beard.
That left the spotlight squarely on Justin Trudeau, flanked by local Liberal candidates who are trying to go where no Calgary Liberals have gone before (at least in the last 40 years) – to Ottawa.
Fresh off a victory of sorts in Fort McMurray – the heart of the oilsands – there are high hopes for a Calgary breakthrough. Ironically, it may be a Trudeau who finally puts the ghost of the NEP to bed in Alberta.
With what now seems like a yearly tradition – an Alberta PC leadership race – in full swing, I’ve taken the opportunity to rank the would-be-Premiers by their Stampede wardrobes. After all, the PC constitution forbids them from talking about policy, so what else are Albertans going to base their decision on?
Finishing third, and the winner of “worst dressed” this year, is Tom Lukaszuk. I recognize he spends 30 minutes on his hair every morning, but surely he could have donned a cowboy hat just this once? All I’m asking for is the bare minimum effort.
In second, Ric McIver gives it the bare minimum effort, wearing jeans and at least carrying a hat around.
Like the leadership race itself, there was never any doubt about who would win this fashion round-up. Jim Prentice has been a Stampede All-Star over the years – he rides a horse, throws a breakfast, and makes a wide range of outfits work.
And, finally, there is Naheed Nenshi, who this week passed the Calgary Tower as the city’s most photographed landmark.
We know Kathleen Wynne likes to run, but this spring she was running against 10 years of baggage, a widespread time for a change sentiment, and more scandals than the opposition could fit in a 30-second TV spot. Luckily, she was also running against Tim Hudak.
Given these challenges, the election was Hudak’s for the taking (or Horwath’s - more on that later). Out of the gate, he claimed control of the agenda, dominating the headlines every day. This was a page out of the Harper 2005 Playbook, when he took a break from Gomery to announce his 5 priorities. For Harper, it was very much about reassuring voters he was fit to replace a government most were ready to replace.
The problem for Hudak was that the agenda he laid out was nothing at all like Harper’s. The 5 priorities were populist fluff few could disagree with – a GST cut, a wait times guarantee, an accountability act, cash for parents, and tough-on-crime legislation. Some may not have agreed with them, but it’s hard to be against tax cuts. Harper suddenly looked less scary than the private healthcare, pro-gun, anti-abortion caricature that had been drawn of him two years earlier. By showing his agenda, he eased fears about a hidden agenda.
However when Hudak took control of the campaign, he showed an agenda that was just as harsh as anything the Liberals could have accused him of hiding. By inviting controversy, the debate became all about Hudak rather than the Liberal record. Most shocking was his pledge to axe 100,000 public service jobs, something the Liberal campaign pounced on and didn’t let go of. Suddenly, Hudak was playing defense on what he hoped would be his strongest turf – jobs. It certainly didn’t help that his math was (once again) suspect.
Despite a strong debate performance by the PC leader, the ballot question had already shifted from change and corruption to Hudak’s plan. That left a suddenly centrist Andrea Horwath squeezed out of the picture with little to say – another abject failure for the NDP, on the heals of disappointments in Nova Scotia and BC.
The Wynne campaign, meanwhile, kept a laser focus on Hudak. When forced to talk about their own plan, they wisely steered the conversation to pensions – the one clear idea in a rather smudgy financial blueprint.
Winning elections is all about framing the election around the narrative you want, and that’s what Wynne was able to do…by letting Tim Hudak control the agenda.
Back when I first sat down to rant about politics on May 15th 2004, I never expected I’d still be doing this over 3,000 posts later. The blog has outlasted 3 Liberal leaders, been through 4 federal elections, and documented my involvement on a handful of losing leadership campaigns. During that time, Bart Ramson turned into Dan Arnold, I moved to Edmonton, finished school, and became a “Toronto Grit”. Shortly thereafter, Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary and Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto. Go figure.
Nenshi and Ford have provided me with bountiful amounts of blogging material, but they have not been alone. There was the Michael Ignatieff experiment, on which so much virtual ink was spilled. There was the coalition crisis, which gripped the nation. There was the rise of the Wildrose Party, which led to the rarest of things – an exciting Alberta election. There was the orange wave. And, through it all, there was still time to poke fun at Politicians in Cowboy hats…and leather vests.
Another source for much blog content has been Justin Trudeau, but he is also the reason content has been, and will continue to be, scarce here. I’ve recently started working for the Liberal Party which, needless to say, limits what I’m able to write about. And really, what’s the point of blogging if I don’t have Rob Anders to kick around anymore.
You may still find the occasional retrospective or Pierre Poilievre rant, but this site will be taking a breather from deeper political analysis, at least until after the next election.
So a big thank you to everyone for reading over the years. I’ve always been in awe of the high caliber of discussion in the comments section of this site, and have appreciated the e-mails. As vain as it is to count clicks, the fact that I knew people were reading certainly motivated me to keep at it for a decade. So, to everyone, thank you.
I leave you with a list of 10 of my favourite posts from over the years. These aren’t necessarily the most viewed or the best posts – just 10 that I had a lot of fun writing.
1. Follow the Leader: I only include this post as a humbling reminder about how unpredictable politics can be, and how wrong I’ve been on many occasions. Just one year before Paul Martin’s resignation I provided odds on 13 possible Liberal leadership contenders without listing Stephane Dion, Bob Rae, or Gerard Kennedy. I do mention Michael Ignatieff, but only in what may have been the most awesomely off-the-mark sentence in the history of this blog – and I quote – “This week, we saw Peter C. Newman toot Michael Ignatieff’s name which is interesting because that’s about as serious a suggestion as Justin Trudeau”. Heh.
2. Greatest Prime Minister: In a March Madness style contest, blog readers voted for Wilfrid Laurier as Canada’s Greatest Prime Minister. This begat a series of other contests including “Best Premier”, “Best Prime Minister We Never Had”, “Biggest Election”, and, coming this summer, “Best Minister of Natural Resources”.
3. The Race for Stornoway: 2006 was really the heyday for political blogging. From the “Draft Paul Hellyer” movement, to candidate interviews, to the blogging room at the convention itself, blogging was as close to “cool” as it would ever be.
4. A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta Politics: For some reason, I seemed to blog a lot more about Alberta politics after I left Alberta.
PS. Ed Broadbent.
7. Moments of Decade: Hopefully I’m blogging again by 2020, because this is an exercise I’d dearly love to repeat. Readers nominated and voted on the top political moments of the decade, with the Alliance-PC merger topping the list. It wasn’t as exciting as the coalition crisis or the Belinda Stronach Chuck Cadman confidence vote insanity, but it set the stage for the rise of Stephen Harper.
8. On October 6th vote for proper scaling of the Y-Axis. Vote Liberal. Tim Hudak math burn!
9. What’s the Matter with Calgary? Having lived in both Calgary and Toronto, I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by the Nenshi-Ford dichotomy. Elected a week apart, these men are opposites with so much in common, who both shattered their cities’ stereotypes. When I first moved to Toronto, a lot of lefties would shake their head and “tsk tsk” when I said I was from Calgary. Not any more.
10. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Census (But Were Afraid to Ask): I’ve never been of the opinion that Stephen Harper is a monster who has destroyed Canada beyond recognition. Even on issues where we disagree – the gun registry, climate change, Quebec as a nation – I understand where he’s coming from. However, of everything Harper has done, his decision to scrap the long form census remains the thing that boils my blood. Here was the party who sends Happy Hanukkah cards to swing voters calling the census too “intrusive”. It wasn’t an assault on the welfare state or big government, it was an assault on reason. It showed that Harper offered nothing more than government by truthiness.
And that, is why I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next bit to help defeat him.
The Alberta PCs may very well be beyond saving, but if anyone can give new life to the 43-year old dynasty, it’s Jim Prentice.
First elected in 1997, Rob Anders gained notoriety in 2001, voting against honourary citizenship for Nelson Mandela and calling him a “terrorist” – a sentiment Anders doubled down on earlier this year after Mandela’s death. In between, he has been a punching bag for progressives, and pretty much everyone who follows politics (except for former Calgary Sun columnist Paul Jackson, who developed a serious man-crush on Anders, calling him “too precious to lose”).
While Paul Jackson will be sad to see the demise of his precious, it’s hard for political bloggers to not feel a little sad about all the content we’re losing. What made Anders a reliable source of fodder was how…original, his controversies were. Any politician can gaffe, get caught in a lie, or espouse a position the mainstream finds repugnant. We see that all the time. What made Anders special (precious even) was that he would say things so out of left field, they barely made sense. Like the time he suggested Tom Mulcair was responsible for killing Jack Layton. Or lamented that bilingualism was destroying Canada, much the same way the decay of Latin led to the fall of Rome. Back in 2005, he sent pamphlets about chrystal meth to a BC riding that included a “tough on crime” survey asking people if they supported “homosexual sex marriage”.
Then there were the days when Anders was asleep on the job – literally. First, in the House of Commons, then at a Veterans Affairs committee hearing. True to form, Anders accused the veterans who made their claim of being “NDP hacks”…only to find out later they were card carrying Tories. This was a common line of defence for Anders, who saw vast left wing conspiracies every time someone tried to defeat him (or messed up his dry cleaning order).
So while Anders’ defeat is a relief for the voters of Signal Hill (and Canada), it is a sad day for those of us who have taken great joy in ridiculing the man over the years. Yes, there’s still Rob Ford, but come October, he might also find himself out of work. What then?
On the other hand, Rob Anders is still an MP, and assuming he doesn’t run elsewhere, now finds himself unshackled from worries of re-election or having his nomination papers signed. The man still has a podium (and a Twitter account) for another 18 months, and nothing to lose. I highly doubt Rob Anders is just going to nap through his final term as an MP. We most certainly haven’t heard the last of this politician we all love to hate.
Stunning news. One of the most influential politicians of his generation is gone all too soon.
Marois’ gambit for a majority ending in a blaze of spectacular failure.
Couldn’t happen to a more deserving party.
No one, least of all politicians, likes to admit just how big a role outside forces play in one’s political success – and failure. Strong MPs are defeated when the national campaign goes south. Unexpected issues derail the best laid plans. Competing interests from within will undermine even the most successful leaders.
That’s largely what happened to the last two Alberta Premiers. Ralph Klein saved the PC party from certain defeat in 1993, won 4 majorities, and eliminated the debt. His party showed its gratitude with a 55% leadership review.
All his successor did was increase the size of their majority, winning 72 of 83 seats. Three years later, the party brass quietly shoved Ed Stelmach aside.
I’ve written enough about Klein and Stelmach’s shortcomings to fill the legislature library, but even I will admit they got a raw deal. I wouldn’t call either a sympathetic figure, but in their own peculiar ways, they got the job done, only to be shown the door. Redford however, left her party with little choice.
It’s true that Redford was up against a few daunting obstacles. She won the party leadership with only 2 MLAs supporting her – and one of those MLAs was named Alison Redford. Unlike past PC leaders who could brush off a largely inept Liberal opposition with a few good NEP horror stories, Redford faced a new threat in the form of the Wildrose Alliance. And, as the old adage goes, governments tend to stumble during their 12th term in office.
Faced with this, it’s tempting to cast Redford as a victim of the fates. That likely would have been a fair narrative had she been buried in 2012 under a groundswell of support for Danielle Smith. But Redford won a convincing majority, giving her a clean mandate and plenty of political capital to spend. It turns out Alison Redford spends political capital as quickly as taxpayer dollars.
Soon after the election, Redford found herself in trouble for accepting a $430,000 donation from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz. Katz was looking for government support for a new arena, so bankrolling Redford’s re-election campaign was likely a better investment for him than giving Shawn Horcoff 5.5 million a year. But it raised serious questions about Redford’s judgment – doubts which only grew when conflict of interest allegations surfaced surrounding a contract she had given to her ex-husband’s law firm. In both instances, Redford had a remarkably difficult time providing a clear explanation, and keeping her story straight.
It was reminiscent of her first scandal – the one which nearly cost her the 2012 election. Shortly after winning the leadership, Redford found herself in dire straights over the “money for nothing” controversy, when it came to light that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn’t met in four years. Opposition members quickly did the sensible thing and returned the money. Redford called the gesture a “stunt” and said there was nothing wrong with the committee – but hung her MLAs out to dry by suggesting there would be electoral consequences if they didn’t pay back the cash. Her caucus whip said voters were too stupid to understand the issue. In the end, Redford ordered her MLAs to return the funds, but only a month later, after the polls went south.
This pattern repeated itself with the controversy that would ultimately be her undoing. It started with extremely poor judgment, when Redford spent $45,000 of taxpayer dollars on a flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones). As per her modus operandi, Redford defended the move, changed her story, stalled, waited for the controversy to explode – and then acted, repaying the money. By that point, other revelations of misspending had surfaced, and there was no way out of the death spiral.
All leaders face scandals. The difference for Redford was that nearly all of these were of her own making. Each time, Redford showed herself to be out of touch with taxpayers, dithered and changed her story, and failed to act until the damage had been done. While there will no doubt be a temptation to paint Redford as a tragic figure, undone by 43 years of PC baggage and a party know who pulls out the knives at the first sign of trouble, she really has no one to blame for her failure but herself.